Guilt: A Destroyer of Recovery

When we are guilt-ridden, we feel disempowered, small, and stuck. Guilt splits us. On one side we are playing the guilty child, on the other side, we are the punisher. 

One side says: “You shouldn’t have done that!” The other side either caves in and takes the punishment or rebels: “I can do anything I want!”

Regardless of which side wins that day, we lose. We remain disempowered, feeling terrible inside, and stuck. Guilt is self-blame, the opposite of being kind and tender with the parts of us that are in pain. Being hard on ourselves always backfires, no matter what! 

Guilt is the internalized pressure of the controlling forces we had around us while we were kids. So, what steps can we take to overcome guilt?  

How to Work with Guilt 

Listen closely to the tone of your guilt. What does it say to you? How does it say these things? You will begin to see whose voice it is from your past. Notice the powerlessness of the part of you who is being punished for their “wrong-doing.” Notice the aggression of the punisher – this is the controlling voice in you.

Recognize the endless conflict between these two parts and how much the back-and-forth keeps you in your head, lost in thought. 

man struggling with feelings of guilt

Try This Exercise

Position two chairs facing each other and sit in each for a minute, shifting back and forth while letting the two parts speak and respond to each other. Exaggerate what they have to say to the other one, make it big, dramatize it.

Now, place another chair away but facing them and sit here. On this chair, this is the real you. From here, look at them both and get in touch with how each feels without becoming them. 

Here you are aware of the two parts and you see them for what they are. You can feel the controlling part with all its agendas and rigidity. You can also feel the child-like rebellious part with its desires and needs. 

Don’t Let Guilt Dictate Decisions

Make sure your decisions in life arise from this place where you are sitting now and not from the punisher or the child. Who you are in this seat is capable of protecting the child against the internalized bully (the punisher) in you and you are also capable of honouring the healthy needs of the child in you. 

If the child needs to rest, then create more space for resting in your life. If the need is for fun, joy, and lightness, then find activities where you can connect with these feelings.

When we take care of ourselves properly, we tend to feel naturally motivated to live a healthy life. This motivation is authentic and feels very different from the toxic and rigid motivation that guilt creates in us. 

We find our natural drive when we are no longer at the mercy of the “shoulds” within us. 

man speaking with therapist about guilt

Continue to Explore Guilt

The more you explore guilt, the more you might see how guilt drives you in your daily life and your relationships. For example, when you cannot say “no,” because you promised, because you don’t want to hurt them, etc. 

Keep working on guilt as you explore expressing your truth more and more consistently with those in your life. The more you continue to understand yourself and the emotions and feelings that come up in life, the easier it will be to acknowledge them in the moment.

At Sunshine Coast Health Centre, we help those from all walks of life with mental health and/or issues with substance use. If you or someone you know is struggling, contact us for information on our programs and services.

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